Gigs, dance, art

November 28th, 2007: TOOT

@instants chavires

Back to my favorite venue after a month-long strike induced hiatus. It was good to be back, though I might have chosen a better day.

TOOT is a project featuring Phil Minton on vocals, Thomas Lehn on analog synth and Axel Dörner on trumpet. That generally gives a very wrong idea of what it’s all about, unless maybe one is familiar with these guys. It is a very understated and restrained project, in which the sounds tend to be very faint. And of course the trumpet is rarely used to generate anything like a trumpet sound, mostly blowing through tubes then some electronic processing. Even Minton was more in the whisper/strangled range. Which is disappointed not much in and of itself, but because he stayed in that mode for almost all of the show. The synth was the sound I like best, and even that turned out frustrating. My beef is with the lack of changes and also lack of interaction among performers. The beginning of the second set did show some life though, but that was short lived. It’s probably me, but I’ve seen too many of these so they start all sounding the same to me. At least sometimes I can follow some path through the faint sounds, but it eluded me this time.

November 29, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , , , | Leave a comment

November 24th, 2007: Wu Man


I was pleased and surprised to be able to get a ticket for this, but it turned out not to be sold out, which makes little sense to me. I only noticed recently that Wu Man played on Bang on a can’s recording of In C — a record with a FMU connection with Irene Trudel being involved. I had not even noticed the pipa at all. I had seen her play with Kronos though, and her having lived in Boston gave yet another connection to my interests. Seriously, I love the pipa. I really like its distinctive sound, and I think this instrument just looks great as well. I don’t get the chance very often, so this was too good to pass up.

The performance was really brilliant, and balanced as well. The first hour featured six solo pieces, both traditional songs and recent compositions. The latter were obviously using more of the range of the instrument, but even the simple songs were really good. Wu Man is quite simply an amazing musician. Her technique is flawless without sounding too technical.

Then Robert Schulz joined her on stage, first for a short solo piece on bongos, which was a nice change of pace. He’s definitely no dummy either. A real nice touch was that they then ended the set with a performance of Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, which I’m quite partial to, a deceptively simple process which he had the good idea to explain beforehand.

After a short break, both of them came back for a longer work for pipa and percussions composed by Chen Yi, with a simple video in the background that was pretty nice, with a lot of ink drawings and Chinese characters. Calligraphy can be great when it’s done well, though I guess not understanding what is written probably means I’m missing part of it. The music was interesting as well, though I had a hard time hearing the pipa at times; the percussions were drowning it out for short spells. But most of the time they were quieter and combined very well with the pipa.

November 25, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

November 22nd, 2007: Edouard Lock – Amjad

@theatre de la ville

The few words I had read about this were about a mix of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. I feared the worst, especially seeing it lasts close to two hours. Maybe that dread was a good thing, as it was not bad at all. Not great either, but I didn’t get bored.

To my surprise, I actually enjoyed the music, arguably more than the dance itself. It turned out not to be a surprise as I learned that David Lang was responsible for most of it, and his take on such tired old saws — to my ears, that is — was really good, bringing some much welcome edge to it. The piano was most impressive, but the cello and violas had their moments of brilliance as well. This raises my opinion of this composer yet another notch.

The dance felt tame compared to this. I’m not that fond of classical dance, and it was a bit too close to that at times. But the differences were clear, and made some interesting comments. Of course, the parts I liked best were when at least four dancers were involved, closer to the ground and with echoing arm moves. I don’t know why I just can’t share his taste for the vertical. Maybe there’s some kind of midget grudge at work here. But I did like it much more than the previous few of his that I saw. Maybe I would have liked it more had I not been so exhausted, I had trouble focusing at times. That’s pretty much immaterial by now. On the whole, I’d still like to see the next one, and definitely will if he keeps such talented company.

November 23, 2007 Posted by | Dance | , | Leave a comment

November 21st, 2007: Schwervon! / MOSKDL

@Pop In

First time I went to this particular venue, and it has a lot going for it: one has to climb a flight of stairs — cramped and wooden — then go down another to get to the small basement-like gig area. Very nice, it cuts you off from the outside efficiently. Another great selling point: I could get a pint of Guinness in a real glass for the price most venues charge for half that of some crappy beer in a plastic glass. Now that’s what I call being friendly. I couldn’t enjoy that much though, what with that lingering strike and the looming 8-mile walk back. They didn’t even charge for the gig. That’s right, free gig with one of my favorite bands and cheap Guinness. Why didn’t I hear of this place before? Better late than never, and yet another way I’m indebted to Matt. Nothing personal, I just happen to be on their mailing list, but how else am I to get news of their gigs?

OK, on to the show itself. The opening band were French, they’re called MOSKDL, and they sure seemed to have brought in some people. More power to them for that. Plus they seemed to be nice guys, they stuck around for the main act — so they have great taste — and allowed Matt to borrow a guitar. I wish I could be as positive about their thing, but that’s not quite the case. It would have been easier had they been average jerks. It’s not bad, not at all, and fit in really well somehow. I’m just kinda annoyed by the main singer’s voice, that’s all. Might be worth checking out again though, drums, bass and a couple of guitars in a cramped place easily sound good, but they did have some depth there. I don’t really care for their slower songs though, too nice for me. But there were a couple I really liked. I feel I didn’t pay them enough attention, I was sick and tired and they were kinda in the way of Schwervon! getting on stage. They’re good enough to be getting real interesting soon; maybe they won’t, but going back in a few month is the only way to figure that out.

Finally, Schwervon! took the stage. I even had a chance to chat a little with Matt beforehand, even though he looks quite impressive to me. Must be the Guinness making me feeling amazingly confident. They proceeded to deliver yet another reason why they’re one of my favorite live bands. It kinda sucks, but they feel much more at home in such cramped quarter, with a small but responsive audience. How anyone couldn’t be responsive escapes me, but I saw it happen, and that bothered me enough to have me get much closer to the front than usual. They did seem to feed off the energy, which was a good thing as Nan complained of having a sore throat. It didn’t really show, I think. Can’t be sure of that, being familiar with their stuff, but the bottom line is it didn’t matter. People were responding, for a change I was not the only one knowing about them, and I even talked some guy into buying Poseur from them — for which I think he should actually thank me. Great performance, one of their best, maybe not musically but for the sheer connecting. Nan said their set on Monday was real short, that makes me less bitter about missing them; but I definitely don’t plan on skipping another show of theirs. It was my fourth, and I can’t wait for the next one, hopefully with Toby Goodshank in tow. I would be remiss in not mentioning Olive Juice, the jaw-droppingly good label Matt is running. A good nexus, just nosing around and following some links can get you to real worthwhile places.

November 22, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

November 18th, 2007: Garry Stewart – Devolution

@theatre de la ville

An afternoon show; turned out to be a good idea as it allowed me to avoid the rain that is now pouring down. Walking 10 miles in the rain and cold would have been a major pain. Without the rain, it was worth it.

I know I should mention the many robotic elements in this show, but I just ignored most of these. The prosthetic limbs/tentacles toward the end were more compelling, but that was not my favorite part. They were fast and real talented, but what really got me was the uncanny precision. And I felt it was put to the best use in the slower parts. That’s kinda misleading, as when some dancers were going more slowly, others were going at full speed. But that’s how I chose to perceive it.

My not caring about the metal thingies probably means I missed the point. But I did find something to my liking, so it’s OK by me. I couldn’t help but think about how ninetiesish it all felt. The leather reminded me of an old one by Preljocaj. The all out virtuosity made me think about Lock — Louise Lecavallier era. That feeling was reinforced by their spending a lot of time close to the ground, at least more than what is usual now. Definitely echoing that long gone era when I first went to see dance shows. So I probably got a bit too much into such thoughts. Signs of old age, I guess. But that only got in the way of my getting whatever message was supposed to be out there. I did see it, and I liked enough of it to be happy to have been there. Anyway, it’s probably better that way. Messages too often come wrong to me, I’m too far gone to relate. So focusing on the dance itself sounds like a plan.

November 18, 2007 Posted by | Dance | , | Leave a comment

November 16th, 2007: Benoit Delbecq & Han Bennink


At last I got to see Han Bennink. That strike had me exhausted, but I was not to be denied this time.

At first what struck me was his sheer velocity, but I know better than trusting my first impression. Same thing goes for his headband wearing, I was really set on going beyond that. I was not disappointed, he’s very much a showman; but that’s nothing. The real deal is that he is an astounding drummer. Delbecq is no dummy either, he got some great sounds out of his piano, more so that most people I have seen so far. It sounded weird at first how the drums were more interesting even on a melodic level, but he kinda raised his playing to the point were even I got to appreciate what he was doing, even though I was biased.

But I was there to hear Bennink at last and I’m glad I was there. His play comes close to redefining what drumming is all about for me. What a range of possibilities. And he’s going at it, not around like too many do. His sound is crisp and straightforward, but he just knows what can be done with it, and he’s nice enough to share that knowledge with the lucky audience. I was in awe at his ability to change the mood so easily, from compelling attention to supporting his partner in a heartbeat, but always smoothly rewarding my focusing on his play. How selfish of me, the price being that I’m aware that I probably missed on what else was there, but for a first shot at hearing him play, it was well worth going the extra mile, literally in that particular case, with that strike making me walk miles home after that show.

November 17, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

November 14th, 2007: Shantala Shivalingappa – Namasya

@theatre des abbesses

No Kuchipudi this time, it was only solo pieces of a contemporary bend. I thought there would be three of them, turned out there was a fourth one, which was good news indeed. It was a short event, less than one hour, but it more than made up for that in quality. Easily my favorite in the season so far.

The first solo was authored by Ushio Amagatsu of Sankai Juku fame. The connection was obvious, and really interesting in and of itself. Shantala Shivalingappa was dressed in white, but in trousers and she didn’t have any of the usual Sankai Juku make up. That was a great costume, as it echoed the original in a minimalist way. And the dance itself was similar: most gestures were familiar, but probably more understated, and without most of the dramatic element. A really good piece in its own right, made even more compelling in its relation to Sankai Juku. I had the feeling they had really met artistically, that this performance was the result of a fruitful conversation. My favorite solo of the evening.

The second piece was done with input from Pina Bausch, and it showed as well, even the choice of music could have been in one of her works. The whole solo could have, actually, as it had that familiar offbeat sensuality and flowing feel. It was probably longer than what would be customary in Bausch’s own work, but that’s a good thing, because it could expand a bit more and reach more of that sense of freedom that is often hinted at there.

The third piece was authored by the dancer herself, and I was transfixed by the motion of her hands and arms. It was the most abstract solo, at least for me, with geometric figures meshed with flowing movement. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the bigger picture, but I didn’t want to break the spell.

In the fourth and final part, she remained close to the ground and turned her back to the audience most of the time. I had an impression of a kind of pulse, expanding from a core then retreating. Near the end her outstretched arms went into a quickening wave-like motion that was made even more captivating by the lighting. I’m not sure I heard the author’s name right but it sounded like her mother’s.

I really loved it, and it was well worth the 8-mile walk I had to go through after that courtesy of the current transportation strike.

November 15, 2007 Posted by | Dance | , | 1 Comment